Grand Jury Orientation for Mississippi Citizens
Thank you for taking time from work and family to serve on the Grand Jury. It is one of the obligations of good citizenship, and we hope you will find it rewarding and interesting. To prepare for your duties, please read the Grand Jury orientation for Mississippi citizens.
Your names are drawn at random from the voter rolls of the County. After qualification by the Circuit Judge, 20 people are chosen to serve as jurors. This is one and a half times the size of a regular trial jury of 12 people.
You represent a cross-section of the community socially, racially, and economically with diverse backgrounds who will pass down dispositions on criminal felony cases and report to the County on the affairs of the criminal justice system.
Your duties are to review criminal cases presented by the Office of the District Attorney by sworn testimony of law officers, victims, and witnesses. Based on the testimony, you may indict a defendant as charged, indict for a lesser or greater crime, or not indict. Indictment is called a “true bill” and non-indictment is a “no bill.” You may also refer a case to a lower court for misdemeanor prosecution.
At least 15 of the 20 members of the Grand Jury must be present to have a quorum to vote on an indictment. At least 12 of those present must vote for indictment to return a true bill. Anyone who has a relationship with a party to a particular case should excuse themselves from the room during testimony and voting.
Cases are presented by the District Attorney, Assistant District Attorney, or County Prosecuting Attorney, but they and all witnesses must leave the room during discussion and voting.
Presentation of Cases
Prosecutors present evidence to establish the jurisdiction and the elements of the crime. The Grand Jury does not decide the guilt or innocence of the defendant. Its responsibility is to consider the evidence, then determine if there is probable cause to believe the person charged committed the crime.
Grand jurors can ask the prosecutor questions of law or evidence. You can accept hearsay or evidence that might not otherwise be admissible at a trial. Different from a trial jury, the Grand Jury only decides if the case should proceed further so that the defendant will be tried in Circuit Court. Your duty is to protect the innocent from unwarranted prosecution as much as to ensure the guilty go to trial.
After the District Attorney’s Office has presented its case, you can ask the witnesses questions. If you are undecided after the presentation of testimony, you can request additional evidence or witnesses. The Grand Jury can compel a witness’s testimony by subpoena.
Foreman and Secretary
The Circuit Judge appoints a foreman for each Grand Jury. The Grand Jury selects a secretary. The foreman acts as a chairman by signing all true bills and personally presenting them to the Judge or Circuit Clerk. The secretary keeps a written record of the cases presented, the list of witnesses, and the results of votes in a book of Indictments.
The District Attorney, Haldon J. Kittrell, is a full-time state official serving the five counties that make up the 15th Circuit District: Lamar, Lawrence, Marion, Pearl River, and Jefferson Davis. He employs seven Assistant District Attorneys. The County Prosecutor is a part-time, elected official who prosecutes misdemeanor cases in Justice Court and Youth Court.
Other than indictments, the Grand Jury is generally charged with reviewing law enforcement and inspecting the books and records of public officials and the condition of public buildings. Each Grand Jury interprets these duties broadly and can question any public official about any topic of public interest.
The Grand Jury inspects the Courthouse, public offices, and jail but can also tour any municipal building or local government-funded facility. It is recommended for the Grand Jury to divide into committees to conduct the physical inspections.
The foreman must sign the report. It is read aloud to the Judge and filed in the Circuit Court records. Copies are furnished to the local press, all public officials, and other agencies mentioned in the report. Although not binding to officials, the report is given great weight by them. By law, the report may not praise any official for doing his duty, nor may it accuse any person of malfeasance unless an indictment is returned. It is intended to be an instrument of constructive criticism.
The Grand Jury can make statements in the report about topics of public concern, such as drug abuse, street gangs, youth crime, violence, or related topics. It can recommend follow-up or a course of action to future Grand Juries. The Grand Jury remains intact until the next one is empaneled. In rare instances, the Grand Jury may be called back on the order of the Circuit Court.
Grand Jury members cannot discuss the evidence presented, regardless of whether or not they return a true bill. This secrecy protects innocent individuals and the confidentiality of those indicted but not yet in custody.
We hope you will enjoy your service on the Grand Jury and find it a rewarding experience.
Very truly yours,
Haldon J. Kittrell
District Attorney – 15th Circuit Court